“The elites may be disproportionately monolingual.”
— Workshop participant
Earlier this year, I spent International Mother Language Day facilitating workshops about multilingualism. That month, I also traveled to the country with the language I’ve spoken better than my mother tongue, at least for a while. I definitely understand the grammar of that language – English – better than my own. The benefits of having been an ESL teacher.
The European Union has 24 official languages and hundreds of minority languages and dialects. There are three dominant language families: Germanic, which includes my mother language, Dutch and the continent’s lingua franca English; Roman(ce); and Slavic. Iconic languages such as Greek, Turkish, or the Celtic or Baltic languages are not part of these families. In other words: it’s a blissful mess.
Time to Turn, our art walk through deep time, has been made child-friendly and partly translated into Frisian (an Anglo-Germanic language spoken in the north of the Netherlands). There, it is called Tsjintiidkuier. Although my family has Frisian roots, I never learned to speak Frisian. Thankfully, it is easy enough to understand in context.
The use of Frisian in the art walk is on purpose. This weekend, I listened to a podcast where Frisian happened accidentally in an interview with a local citizen. What I loved was that the host didn’t translate it into Dutch.
Years ago, I participated in a European project. In the first meeting, the French partners suggested that instead of English, we all speak our mother tongues in discussions and help each other understand. I was reminded of this project when, on International Mother Language Day, one of the participants stated that maybe, the elites are disproportionately monolingual. If you’re well educated, you can get by with all other well-educated people in the world in English (as well as those who speak it as their native tongue). But what about the billions that aren’t fluent in this one language?
What I learned in the European project is 1) beautiful promises aside, most people still preferred English, but 2) the moments where others spoke French or Italian weren’t as bad as I had imagined. And over time, they got better.
I’m not advocating that in international settings, we all simply speak our mother tongue and live with the chaos. All I’m saying is that being exposed to ideas and stories in a language you do not (fully understand) isn’t all too bad.
Bedankt voor het lezen, doorsturen en af en toe een reactie. Fijne week allemaal!